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Boehner: Time for Senate to get to work and stop sequester

February 26, 2013|By Lisa Mascaro

WASHINGTON – Seeking to shift blame onto President Obama’s party for the looming budget cuts, House Speaker John A. Boehner said Tuesday it was about time the Senate “gets off their ass” and develop a way around the enormous automatic reductions.

The Ohio Republican reiterated Tuesday that he has no intention of putting forward his own alternative, arguing that the House twice passed proposals last year that would shift the burden of cuts away from Pentagon programs and onto other domestic accounts – including school lunches, food stamps and others.

“We should not have to move a third bill before the Senate gets off their ass and begins to do something,” Boehner said. “The American people know if the president gets more money they’re just going to spend it.  The fact is, is that he’s gotten his tax hikes. It’s time to focus on the real problem here in Washington and that is spending.”

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It is unclear if Boehner could rally the votes in his chamber to pass an alternative, as the earlier proposals were approved last year with the slimmest margins. Those bills are no longer available as they expired when the new Congress began in January.

Polls show Americans will largely blame Republicans for the cuts coming Friday that may cause disruptions in federal services, but Republicans say the White House is hyping the magnitude of the cuts in a campaign to bend public opinion to its side.

To counter the White House bully pulpit, Republicans are considering offering legislation that would provide the administration even more authority over determining which federal programs get cut – allowing the president to tailor the reductions rather than slashing indiscriminately across the board as required under the law.

The Senate may consider that option this week, and the House could take up the issue as part of another budget bill next week.

But the idea of shifting even more responsibility to the White House is dividing Republicans in Congress, who have been unable to agree on a consistent strategy to fight the cuts because many conservative lawmakers would simply prefer to allow the reductions to happen as a way to stem the flow of red ink.

Some Republicans would like to protect defense and other programs they favor from cuts; others, including more veteran members of the House and Senate, are loathe to cede their constitutionally vested budget powers to the administration.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) compared the flexibility proposals to “rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic,” saying last week: “They’re still dealing a body blow to the economy.”

The $85 billion in cuts were designed as a last-ditch strategy to bring both sides to the negotiating table on a broad deficit-reduction plan. But without an agreement, the cuts, also known as the sequester, are poised to take effect. Up to 13% from defense and 9% from other domestic accounts will be cut in the remaining seven months of the fiscal year, vacuuming about 750,000 jobs from the economy. Social Security and the Medicaid health program for poor and elderly Americans are spared, and cuts to Medicare are capped.

Obama traveled to Newport News, Va., on Tuesday to shift attention to the ordinary Americans in that military-heavy enclave who would be hit as the federal government withdraws funds from the economy. Most Americans say in polls they prefer the president’s approach of combining spending cuts with new tax revenue from wealthier Americans and corporations to stem deficits.

Democrats, to be sure, have their own divisions over Obama’s tax hike proposals. Oil state senators, for example, successfully blocked their party from proposing legislation to do away with tax deductions used by the oil and gas industries – long a target of the president.

The Senate is expected to propose Democratic and Republican alternatives this week, but neither are expected to overcome the 60-vote threshold to pass.

One point that both parties largely agree on is that the idea for the sequester originated in the administration, before Congress overwhelmingly approved it in 2011 as part of an earlier budget deal.

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